Growing Dianthus Barbatus (Sweet William) and Other Garden Pinks

Sweet Williams have pretty fringed flowers that grow in a cluster on top of a long stalk. Dianthus Barbatus is a lovely variety of the dianthus species. These growing tips will help you to get it going in your garden.

Dianthus Barbatus is also known as Sweet William. It is a tender perennial, often grown as a biennial in most hardiness zones.


Carnations and pinks have a strong fragrance with a spicy scent. Sweet William, however, bears only a mild fragrance, and some varieties have no scent at all.

Planting guide for Dianthus Barbatus

Dianthus Barbatus – is a tender perennial.  It is often treated as a Biennial with leaves the first year and flowers the second before dying off.  My Dianthus Barbatus has flowered for two years here in NC.

To grow Dianthus Barbatus, follow these tips:

  • Size is 2 feet tall and 1 foot wide
  • Zones 3 to 9
  • Full to partial sun
  • Even moisture
  • Moderate grower.  Low maintenance.
  • The flowers are edible with a mild flavor.  Used as a garnish.
  • Propagation is by seed, cuttings, or division, but seeds of cultivars will not breed true.
  • If it is planted from seed after the last frost, it will flower in the second year. If it is planted in flats before the last frost and then transplanted it may flower in the first year.

The leaves of this variety of Dianthus are fragrant and the plant attracts butterflies and bees.  This lovely variety is one that I got from the farmer’s market. It has a huge 3 inch flower head and is very different in appearance than the lower growing pinks that are more commonly grown.

Dianthus barbatus Sweet William

Varieties of Dianthus

Dianthus is native to the mountains of Europe and there are over 300 species of the plant. The common names are pinks, Sweet William and carnations.

Generally speaking, pinks grow fairly low to the ground, and bloom profusely. They have an aroma like cloves. Most pinks are grown as perennials.

Sweet William is a biennial, which is sown one year and blooms the next.  Sweet William often self-seeds, though the small baby plants do not always stay true to the parent.

The ground cover pinks usually grow to about 1 foot tall, but Sweet William is an upright specimen that will grow to 24 inches or more.

Here are some more photos of Dianthus with the smaller head size. They give a wonderful idea of the variety of colors available.   Growing conditions are similar to the directions above, except for the size, of course.  Photos are courtesy of American Meadows. Dianthus Grenadine MixDianthus Grenadin.  This is the traditional clove scented carnation.  It is hardy and blooms all summer.  Great plant for cut flowers.Dianthus Purple PicoteeDianthus Purple Picotee. Sweet fragrance all summer long. Nice in containers.Dianthus Starburst Dianthus Starburst. Short foliage. Perfect for a border or container. Dianthus Indian CarpetDianthus Indian Carpet. This mix creates a colorful carpet of unique white, pink, and red that bloom from spring into summer. Lovely fragrance and perfect for the front of a garden bed.

Dianthus RedDianthus Red –  The height is only 8 inches tall so it’s perfect for containers.  The plant blooms all summer long. The deep red color is a great contrast to the dark green foliage.How To Grow Sweet William - Dianthus Barbadus

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a small commission from the sale, but the price is the same for you. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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  8 comments for “Growing Dianthus Barbatus (Sweet William) and Other Garden Pinks

  1. Henry Birdwell
    07/10/2015 at 1:45 pm

    Would like to purchase some of these

    • admin
      07/10/2015 at 3:56 pm

      Hi Henry. There is a link above the third photo to my Affiliate American Meadows. If you click the link and then search for Dianthus, it will show what they have in stock now. I’ve also seen them at my local farmer’s market and also at Lowe’s and Home Depot in the spring.

  2. JK
    08/14/2017 at 1:12 pm

    I bought a SW in spring of 2016 and planted it – neglected it, but for watering, and repotted the whole thing in spring 2017. However, it put out these “buds” that only had a little thred-like stamine but no flower. The thing hasn’t put out a real blossom that I would call “sweet” flowers. Is this normal?
    JK Sommers

    • Carol
      08/14/2017 at 10:35 pm

      HI JK. I have not had this experience with Sweet Williams. Mine just die back in the fall, but flower again every spring and summer. Carol

      • Suzanne Achilles
        06/12/2018 at 11:42 am

        It seems two different plants are featured here. One is in the carnation family which is the dianthus, having single flowers per stalk, smells like clove and thin foliage. Then pictured is the Sweet William plant which has different foliage, numerous flowers per cluster and sweet fragrance.

        • Carol
          06/12/2018 at 12:02 pm

          Yes that is true. Both of them were labeled as dianthus on my plant markers. The larger one, I believe, is Dianthus Barbatus and it is a biennial. The lower one is a perennial. Carol

  3. Lindsey
    05/24/2018 at 7:22 pm

    I have these in a huge half barrel in my garden, first year I’ve bought them, but they’re in the barrel with just lamb’s ear. So will it come back? I honestly can not remember any of the info from when I purchased. I’m in NC.

    • Carol
      05/25/2018 at 9:49 am

      Hi Lindsey. I am also in NC. In my experience, the normal Sweet Williams come back year after year and get larger each year. The Dianthus Barbadus (the one with the larger head) does not seem to be as hardy for me. Carol

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